As a Civil Rights activist in the 1960s and 70s, Robert Bland learned early on that he had a desire to help others make a difference in their lives. Some 50 years later, now as head of Newbury Park’s Conejo Compassion Coalition, Bland has remained true to his early mission “to heal a broken world, one person, one community, and one village at a time.”
Throughout his busy career at the Port Hueneme Naval Base and as a part-time counselor and instructor at Oxnard and Ventura colleges, Bland was driven to help others. He initially coordinated the CROP Hunger Walk through Church World Services to raise funds to feed the hungry and later became active in the Homeless Shelter Program in the Conejo Valley, having spent the past 20 years managing those efforts.
When the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Southeast Asia in 2004, Bland wanted to help. He pulled together a coalition of friends to raise funds and traveled to Sri Lanka to do whatever they could in the wake of the disaster that claimed more than 230,000 lives in 14 countries. The group was so moved by what they experienced, they vowed to continue their efforts wherever they saw the need.
CCC to the Rescue
The all-volunteer Conejo Compassion Coalition (CCC) was established as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) in 2006. Today, under Bland’s direction, the organization provides assistance and financial support for poverty and disaster relief efforts worldwide. Moreover, CCC promotes awareness of poverty issues and solutions.
Since its founding, it has helped people in California, Texas, New Orleans, Mexico, Africa and Nepal, with volunteers paying their own way when traveling to provide on-site help. Locally, CCC works with Manna, Food Bank, Sunrise Rotary Club in Westlake, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Church of the Epiphany, Friends of Barnabus and The Greater Contribution.
Internationally, CCC has ties with the International Rescue Committee, the Catholic Church’s Caritas Internationalis, the Red Cross and many others; however, CCC’s emphasis is on helping those who may be overlooked or underserved by government agencies or larger charities.
“We fill a gap to combat hunger, poverty and other endemic problems we encounter, wherever we may find them,” explains Bland. For example, one of CCC’s current projects in Haiti includes rebuilding some of the 250,000 homes lost in the monstrous 2010 earthquake. Working with local authorities and other relief groups, building a home in Haiti costs $8,500 and takes a month.
CCC’s project model was initially to build houses and other structures in areas hit hard with natural disasters. However, over the years, it has evolved and found much greater and more lasting success in enabling the local residents to help themselves.
“The local residents do the heavy lifting and take prideful ownership in building or rebuilding their communities,” says Bland, though CCC provides much of the funding and guidance for projects. He says self-sufficiency is key to ensuring ongoing, positive results.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in CCC’s current efforts in Uganda. Villagers in an impoverished area are building new homes, and with CCC’s direction and support, they are also developing clean water facilities, agricultural programs, schools, student scholarships and micro loans for women to create new businesses. The crown jewel of the Ugandan project is the building of a full-scale medical clinic.
CCC’s many challenges include generating funds to support their efforts. Bland says donors and volunteers are needed to help spread the word and raise funds. A recent presentation to students at Howard University in Washington, D.C. yielded an enthusiastic and willing group interested in fundraising and building awareness for CCC.
“We’re just placeholders for the next generation, who will do what they can to tackle the problems of poverty around the world,” Bland says. “We must involve our young people to ensure our future.”
Contributing to CCC is investing in efforts that are meaningful and accountable, says Bland, noting that CCC is somewhat unique in that donors are more in control and aware of how and where their dollars are being spent. Other poverty and relief groups are not typically as financially transparent.
Among CCC’s most productive fundraising effort is its annual Fourth of July celebration and in February, CCC will celebrate its 10th Anniversary with a fundraiser gala at the Palm Garden Hotel in Newbury Park.
Bland has spent much of his life giving to those less fortunate and supporting efforts locally and around the globe to improve the human condition.
Bland welcomes anyone interested in joining CCC to learn more at ConejoCompassion.org.